Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Producing a Book

Anybody can write a book. Producing a book is very hard. It is right up there with producing a new product for a large company such as General Electric. I have done both and I am not sure which is more difficult.

A new appliance starts with the drawings and specifications. From these you have tools made and you buy equipment that holds the tools. You design the tests and find space for the rest of the production facilities including assembly lines. You make sure pilot models work as they are made on equipment you will use in actual production. And you assure that the boxes they are sold in are made correctly, fit the product and look good.

Authors would be well-served if they had a mental image of the finished product sitting on their shelves. They need a rough idea of the plot, but must be flexible. Characters do not always do what you want them to do. So plot changes will probably occur. A new book requires front and back covers, well-edited text, pictures of acceptable quality, readable type size with the correct font. Covers do sell books, you know. Chapters must be appropriately ended. A book is in fact a list of details that must be accomplished before it can be completed. Tables of contents and indexes must be prepared. There seem to be no end of concerns for you to handle personally before the book is ready for production.

Finally, each author of a new book is an entrepreneur, trying to sell copies in the face of stiff competition from many other authors with the same idea. But if he has a good story, he will never be at rest until he has written it and has seen the book on people’s shelves.

In spite of all this, I have completed my last book. I named it The Insider. It is a novel about an American doctor who spent nine years flying into and out of the USSR during the Space Race when the US and USSR were competing with each other to be the first to land a man on the moon. President John F. Kennedy got Premier Khrushchev of the USSR to allow a NASA doctor to visit the USSR’s secret space launch site about 1963 in spite of problems in Cuba and other US-USSR conflicts. These two world leaders were looking far ahead in the space business.

All the experts say it did not happen. But it did and the man they sent was a friend. The few Government records that still exist support the NASA scientist’s story, even though most were hidden from me and any other writer. It seems that most writer-experts relied on the CIA to tell them the truth, or they relied on people in the USSR to tell them the full story. You may have noticed that books by and about Khrushchev just did not talk about the space program. It seems that the US Congress did not know about the doctor, either. If they did, they would have blabbed about him to everyone they knew. But they thought there was a serious competition and had no idea we were helping the Soviets.

But that was over forty years ago, almost fifty years now. Do you think anybody is willing to release the files on this simple doctor who helped keep Soviet cosmonauts alive? Not in this country. Perhaps one Soviet cosmonaut is still alive who might be interested in telling what he knows.

Anyway, the pain of producing The Insider is almost over. The anticipation of the joy of upsetting self-proclaimed “experts” has kept me to the task. I don’t have any more book ideas now, and this will be my tenth book, so I think I will quit.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Make Way for a Mensch

Often I write about how we are pieces of a movement that enriches the world. It’s the ‘Merican way. If you do your genealogy, you know that. Many Americans have enriched the world through medical research, industrial research and computer research among other ways. What do I mean?

Well, ours is the country large enough and free enough to conduct a medical business that has money left over, a surplus, with which to invent new medicines and machines that will help people get well. Other countries have medical systems that are dominated by government. Their government has taken away all incentives to produce new medicines and machines. They rely on the United States. When the US becomes like them, its incentives will evaporate.

My own background is in industry. I cannot tell you because I do not remember how many of my inventions and methods were used to manufacture devices in a less costly manner so that poor people could afford them. Most of these devices were useful in removing dirt and germs, so people lived better. And they had jobs they could depend on.

Of course, the computer industry revitalized our economy in the 1980’s. Not only did we get a useful product, the computer, but also we got a lot of jobs for people. Wealth was created. We were free enough to evolve an entirely new industry the rest of the world did not have. So we all have benefited .

Who was the guy that invented the computer hard drive? I don’t know. But I know he was a piece of the pattern that produced fast, long-lasting computer machines. And that is about all we can hope for—to be a piece of the pattern. Just as our forefathers and mothers were part of the pattern, adding a nip here and a tuck there in the human quilt, voting for the kind of place they wanted their children to grow up in.

Yesterday, I got word that my brother-in-law died. He had been a professor of some arcane subject in the mechanical engineering school of a large state university. Using his knowledge he developed tomorrow’s inventors. He also came up with some pretty good ideas, himself. But he had another attribute. He was a mensch.

Ordinarily, I do not like to use foreign words when I write. I love the English language (which is about 59% Latin). But we don’t have the word for everything. A mensch, if you don’t know, is Yiddish for

Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.

(I found this definition on an interesting blog:

It was wonderful to have such a man in the family: quiet, unassuming and brilliant. He wasn’t a mensch because he was a professor. He was a mensch because of his life pattern of conduct. The fact that he was interested in genealogy, the fact that he was a very good pianist and the fact that he was a fine Christian person had nothing to do with his mensch-ness. That was because he chose to live a certain way and he stuck with it.

His name was David Shippy, PhD. He was called professor but his real occupation was to contribute to society and his country in a positive way for as long as he could. In that occupation he was successful. His two children are contributors as well. An attitude like Dave’s is contagious. We’ll probably never know how large his contribution was, but you can bet it was big and red and fit extremely well in the fabric of our social well-being. And it will last for a long time. But you have to stand back to see it. The whole thing has been growing for over two hundred and thirty years.